The difference between winning and losing in professional sports, at times, can be razor-thin.
For example, how might things have transpired differently for the Canadiens on this night had they not put themselves in a 3-0 first-period hole against Detroit? Or had they converted a second-period, 61-second, two-man advantage during which they failed to register a shot?
Or had Canadiens head coach Martin St. Louis started overtime with captain Nick Suzuki taking the faceoff instead of Christian Dvorak, who lost it to Dylan Larkin? From there, Montreal never recovered and barely touched the puck, if at all, before the inevitable occurred.
Jake Walman beat goaltender Jake Allen with a blast to the glove side at 54 seconds of overtime, propelling the Red Wings to a hard-fought 5-4 victory over the Canadiens on Saturday night at the Bell Centre. Montreal undoubtedly will take solace from the point it earned, along with the fact it rebounded from 3-0 and 4-2 deficits, scoring two unanswered third-period goals to send the match into the extra session.
Say what you will about the rebuilding Canadiens, but they rarely quit. And, considering they were playing their third game in four nights, that’s a noble characteristic.
“I think back to the first few years of my career,” said erudite defenceman Mike Matheson. “All of a sudden, you’re playing 82 games. We’ve been playing a lot of hockey lately. That’s something that’s pretty under-rated, to learn how to really bring it every single night. I think when you have a young group that’s the nature of the beast a little bit.
“I think it’s something everybody’s focusing on. I don’t think it’s a lack of care or work ethic or anything like that. It’s just something you have to get used to.”
Joe Veleno, Christian Fischer and Daniel Sprong staked the visitors to the three-goal lead before Montreal defenceman Justin Barron, with his fifth goal, cut into that lead just before the intermission.
Fischer’s shorthanded goal was particularly disturbing. The sequence began with Barron falling and losing the puck to Michael Rasmussen, who skated in on a breakaway. While Allen made the original save, he allowed a rebound and couldn’t locate the puck. If that wasn’t bad enough, Fischer was first to it — the lack of back-checking by the Canadiens alarming.
“I made a breakaway save and was going blocker side,” said Allen, who lost a sixth consecutive start. “There was a big man coming down on me and I don’t really know what the heck happened after that to be honest. I had no idea where the puck was.
“Obviously, it wasn’t a great first half of the game for us at all. We found a way to stay in the game. Find a way to get a point out of that definitely is a positive, but there’s still some things we need to work on.”
Joel Armia, with a shorthanded goal four minutes into the second period reduced the deficit to one before Alex DeBrincat restored Detroit’s two-goal advantage with a power-play score 47 seconds later. It was DeBrincat’s team-leading 13th goal along with the 200th of his career.
The Canadiens will rue squandering the two-man advantage later in the period. Montreal’s first power-play unit had been on the ice for nearly a minute at that juncture. St. Louis contemplated calling a timeout to refresh his skaters, but wanted to save it for later, in case.
“If it’s later in the game, maybe, but I thought I might need that timeout later if we scored one there,” St. Louis explained. “I asked the guys if they were OK and they said yes. If they told me they weren’t, I was going to call it.
“They had an idea of the look they were trying to get, but they weren’t giving us that. At that time you have to ad-lib a little bit and follow your instincts. I thought we could have done a better job.”
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Suzuki scored on the power play at 4:12 of the third period — the Canadiens’ first goal with the man advantage since Nov. 12 — before defenceman Gustav Lindström produced the equalizer at 16:01. Montreal has scored 68 goals this season, with defencemen accounting for 20 of them.
“It just keeps happening to us that we have to claw back into games, and that’s not where we want to be,” said Suzuki, who won 13 of 17 faceoffs (76 per cent). “We had a really bad first period. That definitely can’t happen. It keeps digging ourselves holes. We obviously fought back hard but …”
Detroit won for the fifth time in six games, improving to 13-7-3. The Canadiens, who honoured the Grey Cup-champion Alouettes in a pre-game ceremony, are now 10-11-3 and entertain Seattle on Monday night.